Monday 23rd to Sunday 29th May 2022

If you're up before dawn, say from 4am on Thursday 26th, a thin waning Crescent Moon will be located to the east.  To the left of that is planet Venus and to the right of the Moon you will find Jupiter and Mars.  Even further to the right, looking roughly south east, you can find Saturn.

Try the same trick around 4am on Sunday 29th and you will be rewarded by seeing Jupiter and Mars in conjunction.

This astronomical term means that the two planets appear very close together.  Of course it is just an optical illusion because of the angle you are viewing them from - in reality they are millions of miles apart!  Technically speaking, the planets share the same Right Ascension.  To identify a place on the Earth we use latitude and longitude.  When looking at the night sky, astronomers use Declination which is the equivalent to latitude and Right Ascension for longitude.


The end of May sees the beginning of the Noctilucent Cloud season.  You can see them if looking towards the north west horizon 1 - 2 hours after sunset.  The clouds are created by sunlight reflecting from ice crystals high in the upper atmosphere.  They are too faint to be seen in daylight.

The clouds may also been seen an hour or two before sunrise when looking towards the north east horizon, so if you are up early to witness the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars on Sunday 29th, that would be an ideal opportunity.
Noctilucent clouds over Varbla in Estonia, courtesy of Wikipedia



Monday 16th to Sunday 22nd May 2022

The early morning of Monday 16th sees a total lunar eclipse.  The Full Moon will enter the Earth's outer shadow at 2.32am.  Totality begins at 4.29am.  Between those times, the Moon will be located towards the south west.


You will only be able to observe the totality for about half an hour because it will be getting light at 5am and this will destroy the effect.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lies directly between the Sun and the Moon and the Moon lies in the shadow of the Earth.  For a total lunar eclipse, all three bodies have to lie in a straight line so that the Moon passes through the darkest part of the Earth's shadow, technically known as the "Umbra".

During a total lunar eclipse the Moon turns a deep red because it is being illuminated by sunlight that has passed through the Earth's atmosphere and the light is then bent back towards the Moon by refraction.

 Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia

There are a few good evening opportunities to spot the International Space Station next week.  Monday 16th at 11.06pm, Tuesday 17th at 11.55pm, Wednesday 18th at 11.07pm and slightly earlier on Thursday 19th at 10.19pm.  The ISS will appear in the west and spend the best part of 7 minutes passing almost directly overhead, before disappearing towards the east.



Monday 9th to Sunday 15th May 2022

The evening of Tuesday 10th provides an opportunity to observe one of the Clair-Obscur lunar visual effects known as the "Jewelled Handle".  The Moon will be to the south west at 10pm and the effect is caused by sunlight reflecting off the peaks of the Jura Mountains that are located towards the north on the nearside face of the Moon.


To help you spot it, below is a diagram of the different Clair-Obscur effects courtesy of Sky At Night Magazine and an image of the Jewelled Handle courtesy of Pete Lawrence.

For very early risers there are some great opportunities to spot the International Space Station next week.  Monday 9th at 3.55am, Wednesday 11th at 3.55am and Thursday 12th at 3.07am.  In all three cases, the ISS appears close to the west horizon and spends seven minutes passing almost directly overhead before disappearing to the south east.
The ISS is only visible because sunlight reflects from its enormous solar panels - in the same way, you only see planets because sunlight is bouncing off their surface.  Of course, the ISS is much closer and highly reflective so it looks really bright!



Monday 2nd to Sunday 8th May 2022

The morning of Friday 6th sees the peak of the Eta-Aquariids meteor shower that coincides with a moonless sky, so there will be no light pollution to spoil your view.  The shower is so named because the radiant point where the meteors appear to originate from is in the constellation of Aquarius, near one of the constellation's brightest stars, Eta-Aquarii.


If you are up at around 4.15am, the constellations of Aquarius and Capricornus will be close to the horizon in the south east.  As a bonus, for being around at that time of day, it will also be possible to spot Mars and Saturn in the same part of the sky.


Do you remember seeing Halley's Comet back in 1986 when it last entered the inner Solar System and flew around the Sun?  It is known as a "short-period" comet because its orbit makes the comet visible from the Earth every 75 years and it will next appear in 2061.


The shooting stars of the Eta-Aquariids are actually debris from Comet Halley that was left behind from some of its earlier orbits, hundreds of years ago.  At its peak, the shower can produce up to one shooting star per minute.


There are a couple of excellent opportunities to observe the International Space Station next week, but sorry - you will need to be an early riser again!  Monday 2nd at 4.39am and Wednesday 4th at 4.38am.  On both days, the ISS appears in the west and spends seven minutes passing almost directly overhead before disappearing to the east.